Sunday, June 13, 2010

Heroic Is As Heroic Does

This past Saturday, my bike club had its annual century, the Harpeth River Ride. We had more than 1,300 riders, one of the biggest turnouts ever on this ride, in spite of temperatures in the middle 90's.

There are probably a lot of reasons for this many people coming to the ride: New route, excellent marketing, sponsorship from a big company (Nissan), a larger membership in the club. One of the biggest draws was that we got three professionals from Team Radio Shack, which Nissan also sponsors. Everybody wanted to ride with their heroes.

I gotta admit, it was pretty cool rolling out with these guys. We stayed in the pack with them for the first seven miles or so, all the way through downtown Franklin and out to Carter's Creek Pike. We had a Team Radio Shack pace car in front, and a ton of cyclists all up and down the closed roads.

But I was there to ride with this guy.

This is Dan Dillon. He's 68 years old, and blind. We rode the River Ride together last year, doing the 43-mile route. This year, he wanted to do the 64-mile metric.

For the past few weeks, we've been training every Tuesday night at the track, riding very hard for an hour. He's also been doing spin classes, and riding an exercise bike at home. He was doing about everything that he could to get ready for this ride. But, let's face facts: There really is no way that he could get ready for a ride this long, over these kinds of hills, in this kind of heat.

We rode really strong at the start. I had to back way off from the front with Team Radio Shack and the pace car as we headed south, mostly because there were so many cyclists on single bikes jockeying for position, apparently with no idea of the intricacies of captaining a tandem with a blind stoker.

RandoGirl was riding her single doing the same route, and she joined us about mile 10. Ten miles later, just before the first rest stop in Thompson Station, we had a flat on the front wheel. I quickly got the bike over to the side of the road, and Dan and RandoGirl held the bike while I changed the tire. We took that as our "break," and passed up the first rest stop.

Just past Bethesda was Pulltight Hill. Dan was starting to get pretty uncomfortable, but was strong as we went up this three-quarters of a mile climb. At the top, we pulled off at the overlook and got water from some volunteers. During the break, I tried to describe the view for Dan, but I think he was more appreciative of the time out of the saddle and the cool wind blowing up from the valley.

After descending Pulltight, we climbed back up the same ridge on Arno-Allisona Road, then zipped down the far side to Owen Hill. From there, we worked our way over to the next rest stop at College Grove Elementary School. We were now 40 miles in, and Dan had not ridden this long in almost a year. I got him into a shady chair in front of a fan, and he drank as much cold fluid as he could.

As usual, the River Ride rest stops were unequaled in the quality of their food and support. Dan, RandoGirl, and I really enjoyed the fresh baked goodies, fruit, and cold "margaritas" at this stop. Oddly enough, the boiled potatoes were extremely refreshing.

After a good break, we rolled out. The day was now officially HOT, and we slowly climbed Eudaily-Covington Road to Arno Road.

As we turned on Bethesda-Arno Road, Dan began to get cramps in his left leg. I shifted down as we tried to spin our way up the hills, knowing that we were less than five miles from the next rest stop. When we turned onto Cool Springs Road, I pulled us off the side of the road under a shady tree, and Dan tried to massage out the cramp. We sent RandoGirl on to the rest stop, and I gave Dan some Tums and more water and Gatorade as we took a break.

A SAG truck came by, but Dan was not yet ready to give up. We got back on the bike, and started climbing the long hill on Cool Springs Road. Dan's cramps immediately returned, and I told him to slap his arm to disrupt the pain receptors. He was sitting on the back of the bike, slapping everything, turning the cranks over, in constant pain, but refused to give up. Soon, we were over the hill, descending down the other side, and pulling into the Peytonsville Church rest stop.

Again, we quickly got Dan into a seat in the shade. I pushed lots of cold water and Gatorade on him, and Bill Glass (who was also riding with a blind stoker, named Sue) gave him some Endurolytes. We took a long half-hour break to let these kick in, and Dan ate a couple of bananas and rehydrated. Then, we rolled on again.

We had about 13 miles to go from here, and one last big climb over Gosey Hill Road. Since we were on familiar roads, however, I knew a short cut, and offered this to Dan. It would mean maybe two fewer miles, and would remove the last climb.

Dan said no way. He was going to do the full route. Period.

Sure, he was cramping going over Gosey Hill Road. We bombed down the other side, and I kept the pressure on as we skipped the next rest stop on Arno Road, just before Carothers Road. Dan's cramps had eased up, but the saddle was obviously bothering him as we crossed Hwy 96. I counted down the last few miles, and  Dan definitely perked up when I told him that I could see Nissan headquarters. There were volunteers at the turn into the parking lot, clanging cow bells and shouting encouragement, and we coasted into the finish line at last.

Dan was so glad to get off of the bike, and I must admit that he was not the only one. He later told me that he felt that he had let me down by having cramps, and that this had slowed us down. This was funny because I thought I had let him down, and that I should have carried electrolyte tablets and more water bottles. Maybe I pushed too hard, as well, and we should have stopped at the first rest stop.

But Dan definitely did not let me down. He fought through cramps and saddle discomfort, riding longer than he had ever done before, and probably in hotter temperatures. He refused to take the easy ways out when they were offered, and stuck to his original goal of riding 100 kilometers in spite of everything.

Sure, the Team Radio Shack guys are impressive. They're great riders, and I know that they train incredibly hard and are at the pinnacle of their sport.

But my hero is Dan Dillon. He's the cyclist that I came to see at the Harpeth River Ride.


  1. I was glad I got to ride with you and Dan. You were both impressive athletes that day!

  2. "He refused to take the easy ways out when they were offered, and stuck to his original goal of riding 100 kilometers in spite of everything."

    Bravo - Dan is one tough customer! This is a very, very humbling read. We need more heroes like him.

  3. Way to go GUYS! DAN you are the MAN!

  4. Thanks, Randoboy, for the great post and riding with my Dad, Dan Dillon. I'm so proud of you both for sticking with it!